A scant three months after Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev won the Nobel peace prize, the Kremlin expanded its bloody Baltic crackdown from Lithuania to Latvia. After an attack by "Black Beret" shock troops in Riga on Jan. 19 that left five Latvians dead, Gorbachev excused the slayings, claiming independence-minded Latvians were to blame. Gorbachev compounded the backsliding from his earlier political liberalization by retreating from free market principles as well. He invalidated large denomination ruble notes, in effect confiscating them. The message: It is not good to have or hold money.
An alarmed European Community has responded to the political crackdown by suspending some $544 million in technical aid and $680 million in food guarantees to the Soviets. The EC has also adopted measures to ensure that emergency food aid bound for the Soviet Union is delivered to Soviet republics and independent agencies rather than Gorbachev's central government. And the Group of Seven leading industrial nations may suspend the Soviet Union's admission into the International Monetary Fund.
Washington should act decisively, too. George Bush, preoccupied with managing the gulf war, has shrunk from taking a firm stand, even though Red Army marshals are ominously suggesting delays in withdrawing their tanks from Central Europe, and the unratified Conventional Forces in Europe treaty is being clouded by accusations of Soviet cheating. Exhortations for Moscow to observe human rights aren't enough. Bush should warn Gorbachev that a continued Soviet crackdown will jeopardize prospects for expanded U. S.-Soviet economic ties. And he should review his plan to go to Moscow in February to sign a pact to cut nuclear arms. That accord serves the interests of both countries. But there is little chance that the U. S. Senate will ratify it without renewed confidence in Gorbachev's good faith.